Covenant & Remembrance
Arguably the most important component of the Bible’s Flood story is the Lord’s covenant with Noah. Indeed, it is in respect to Noah that the expression “covenant” ( b’rith) first appears in Holy Scripture. This theme of covenant is found, furthermore, at both the beginning and the end of the Flood narrative in Genesis (6:18; 9:9–17).
Especially striking in this story are three resemblances between the covenant with Noah (Gen. 9) and the Bible’s second account of the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17). First, both of these covenants are portrayed as established gifts, or endowments. Second, both of the covenants remain God’s own property. Third, each of these two covenants is marked by a specific sign, which is called “the sign of the covenant.” Let us look at these features.
First, with respect to the covenant as an established gift, or endowment, we observe that the verbs employed in each case are natan, “to give” (Gen. 9:12; 17:2), and haqim, “to establish” (9:9,11; 17:7). The first of these verbs, “give,” emphasizes the generosity of God’s act in making the covenant; it is pure, unmerited grace. The second verb, “establish,” places the accent on God’s steadfast resolve. The covenant is perpetually established; it is an “everlasting” covenant (9:16; 17:7). In the covenants with Noah and Abraham, then, there is an infallible pledge of perpetual hope.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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